Story and photo by Spc. Chelsea Russell
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan — U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Brown, the Regional Command Southwest, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) force chaplain, based out of Camp Lejeune, N.C., has been in the military for 32 years. His dedication to country and God helped him realize the perfect way for him to serve both: as a chaplain in the military.
Navy chaplains are unique because they serve with the Navy, the Marine Corps or the Coast Guard. During the course of his military career, Brown has served with all three. But even though he is in the Navy, his heart remains with the Marine Corps.
“I was an enlisted Marine for five and one-half years when I felt the Lord’s calling into full-time ministry, and then later to be a chaplain. I wanted to be a chaplain that would serve with Marines,” Brown said. “But Marine chaplains are Navy chaplains. So, I joined the Navy and I’m actually in the Navy, but then I get tours periodically to serve with the Marines. And it just so happens I’ve spent a good number of my years with Marines.”
The John H. Craven Servant Leadership Award is a peer-nominated award that acknowledges the significant service of a Navy chaplain who has earned the rank of Captain or Captain-select. Since the award process allows any Navy chaplain to nominate a peer for consideration, Brown actually recommended a fellow chaplain for the award and expected him to win. When Brown found out he had won the Craven Award instead, he was shocked.
“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “I found out from my wife. She e-mailed me. Several chaplains had called her and told her.”
U.S. Navy Capt. Lawrence Greenslit, the II MEF chaplain stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., submitted the recommendation for Brown to receive the Craven Award. He said no matter where Brown is stationed and who he is serving with, his main concern is always about taking care of the people in his charge.
“I recommended him for the award because of all the chaplains I know and I know many. Steve Brown, to me, epitomizes what it means to be a servant and to take care of people,” said Greenslit. “The first question out of Steve’s mouth is always, not how will this impact chaplains, it’s how can we best take care of people. That’s always his focus.”
The fact that he has been able to do that for a year in a deployed environment says a lot about his character and his commitment to Marines, sailors and their families, said Greenslit.
Greenslit admitted that he expected Brown to win.
“I was very happy to hear [he won],” said Greenslit. “I just don’t think there’s another chaplain right now who is a better example of what it means to be a servant leader than Steve Brown.”
Brown is quite modest when it comes to his accomplishments and achievements, but he has had a significant impact on strengthening military forces through his spiritual guidance, engaging leadership and his efforts to build community, all while inspiring subordinates to professional excellence. He said the Craven Award means a lot to him because the award honors a Marine chaplain.
Brown and Craven are alike in many ways.
“I am a Navy chaplain, but I’m really a Marine chaplain,” Brown said, his powerful voice filled with emotion. “John Craven spent the majority of his time with the United States Marines and he deployed with them to two different wars. I have deployed with Marines to two different wars. Now the wars I’ve been in haven’t been anything like the wars he’s been in. There’s really no comparison.
“I was an enlisted Marine, he was an enlisted Marine. As I read his biography there are a lot of similarities between the two of us. So I would just say, the one thing that most honors me about receiving the award is it clearly identifies me as a Marine chaplain.”
Even though this will be Brown’s last deployment, he is grateful he was offered the opportunity to be deployed as a Marine chaplain to take care of the religious and spiritual needs of Marines. He said spiritually-ready Marines are better Marines.
“I’m overwhelmed by the honor bestowed on me,” said Brown. “I’m just thankful that I can just continue to serve Marines and those who serve with them.”